Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Slow Progress...

I haven't done so well on the daily updates, but I have been working! This is going to be a long one... still have the limbs to go, then embellishment. If you didn't guess what I was making before, there's a not-so-subtle clue.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

365 update: altering approach slightly

I guess my 365 project is evolving a little, partly because I've just been so busy. I love the idea of creating something every day, but I also like interspersing little easy-to-do projects with more interesting bigger stuff, and if I want that I'm just going to have to resign myself to knowing the bigger projects will take more than one day to finish. I'm happy with the end products for the ones that have taken multiple days, even though i was stressed that they were taking longer.
To keep myself on track I'm going to still try to post daily with updates, which forces me to still be actively creating every day, even though it takes multiple days to complete.
This one's going to take me a few days, but I'm getting a start on it right now, so here's a beginning photo. The challenge is to make something old look new. I'm not sure if transforming a really ancient shirt into a doll is quite in the spirit of the prompt or not, but it's all I could think of and I think it'll turn out cool...

Happy Easter!

This isn't a real art post, but a friend online was sad she didn't get an Easter egg hunt, so I slapped one together for her in a hurry. That's two Easter egg hunts I've made, today. I thought I'd share in case anybody else missed out. For a limited time (until I get around to fixing the wacky arrows in my online adventure woods thing), there are nine Easter eggs hidden in the Weird Woods!
Click here or the image below to go hunting!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Working like a... rabbit... or something.

No post the past couple days, partly because I was helping get ready for this ->
These bunnies were part of our table at the Farmer's Market today, but it didn't do all that well, actually. I'm not sure quite what it is we're doing wrong, or maybe this just isn't the time to be trying to sell art and crafts, but we do everything we can to make money right now. That said, a big thank you to Heidi of Puppet-a-Day for buying some of our bunnies and making the day better!
For those who don't know, my girlfriend made most of these, we have an Etsy shop (although we're kind of working away from that, because we keep hearing and seeing bad things), and a FaceBook page for trying to sell my art and her dolls.
I partly made this!
We also sell the stuff at a table at the local Farmer's Market, but since I'm also there to run a table for a friend's coffee and tea shop, taking our business to a different market isn't really an option right now.
The other reason I've utterly failed on 365 projects the past few days is this entire week I've been running around like crazy, pretty much from waking up until past dark, at least. Sometimes into the next day, if I'm up late enough at night. Today I have basically done three different jobs, on about three hours of sleep. We're still behind on all our bills, of course. Everything we own is very old and falling apart, or a gift, or mostly both.
I'm very tired.
Anyway, have some bunnies to look at, and ask on the FaceBook page if you're interested in buying any of the ones we have left, and I will be working on my actual 365 projects again as of tomorrow. Tonight I still have paid work to do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 35: Instructions to make something

I really did mean to get this put up yesterday, and despite having a long day that included my car stalling out twice, a tow truck, being out of the house from first thing in the morning until about eight at night, I still got this project more or less done.I was tired but feeling accomplished when I hooked up the camera to upload my instructional video by eleven at night.
Then it took two hours, a lot of alt+ctrl+del and at least one restart of the computer just to upload what was on the camera. I also couldn't do anything else during this process, like post to the blog that this post would be delayed. Attempting to do other things like, say, move the mouse, resulted in complete computer lock-up.
Putting it all together this morning has been a slow process, too, but only slow instead of disastrous. As with the disguise project, this entry is pretty much about the video. I made a flaying monkey pop-up card, and with the video you can make one too! The first thing you need to do is download the PDF and print it out on your home computer. I've included two versions, the color one you'll see in the video and a black and white version in case you want to color it yourself.
PDF is a pretty standard file format, but just in case you don't have a PDF reading program (they're free), I recomment which ironically works way better than the original PDF reading program Acrobat (which is by Adobe who originally created the file format in the first place!).
Got your PDF reading program? Acrobat or CutePDF either should work fine. Click the link below for whichever version you want, or both. Make a whole army of flying monkey cards!
Black and white flying monkey card
Color flying monkey card
Once this is printed out, preferably on card stock, just watch the video below! The joy of a video tutorial is that you can pause it if you need to gather supplies or something.

About the book: This massive Wizard of Oz pop-up book is by Robert Sabuda, who describes himself as a paper engineer. You should visit his website for lots of pop-up tutorials and stuff, which is not what I did, because I was away from the computer when I created this project, and because my brain hasn't been working very well this week.
A friend who's a kind of surrogate uncle gave me this book, and along with it he sent some print-outs about Robert Sabuda and his work, so that was my introduction to him as an artist. I'm not sure how hard the book is to come by, but I highly recommend it. A lot of the papers in it are metallic and some of the pop-ups are incredibly, beautifully complex. Paper engineer is a very accurate title for this guy.
I'm not sure this project really does justice to his work, and I apologize for it being both late and a little ramblingly incoherent. The video was made late last night, and I'm still feeling a little rough today because yesterday was such a mess. My car and my computer are both old, and cranky, but at least for the moment they're still hanging in there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Filler post

Some days you just get up on the wrong side of the bed, I guess, or something. This morning started with finding somebody had been in my car, and while they didn't take anything (there's nothing in it worth taking), the idea creeps me out and it's locked, tonight. I also didn't get the chance to eat until almost noon, because the earlier chance to eat I did get between appointments involved me discovering my bagels had gone moldy.
Nothing major, but I was tired on top of this, and I just haven't had the motivation to get very far with today's project, although I have worked on it a little.
In lieu of a formal 365 project, here's some older fanart of mine, for Alice in Wonderland. I used to be fascinated with the Mad Hatter and his claims that he knew Time personally, although they had a falling out. Here, then, is the Mad Hatter having tea with Time, possibly even that fateful moment when he said something about 'killing time' and was thus forever after cursed...
I used my own pocket watch for reference, because it opens on both sides, so this is specifically the backside of the workings.There's numbers and hands on the side the Hatter is seeing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 34: Work with wire

The people on the cover are alarmed by a giant wire dog...
It really would have been easier to do something three-dimensional with wire, but for some reason I had the idea of trying sort of flat continuous line drawing with it, and that made me think of the illustrations of James Thurber.
When I was growing up we had a copy of 'My Life and Hard Times' on the bookshelf, and it was one of my favorite non-fiction books. As an adult and living across the country, I came across 'the Thurber Carnival' in my favorite used bookstore, which is a massive collection that includes that entire book and more, like the short story 'the Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (which had an excellent Danny Kaye film loosely based off it).
Thurber's short stories are entertaining and often clever, but what I like more are his little essays and bits of personal history. One of my favorites is titled 'The Dog that Bit People' and is a recollection about a dog his family once owned. He describes an Airedale terrier named Muggs who would randomly bite people and walk away, but the story is really in the way he tells it, and his illustrations anthropomorphisize the dog in a way that makes his personality come through. Here I've tried to mimic one of the classic illustrations of Muggs in wire, all one piece just to make it a challenge.
I will admit that one reason I like the stories Thurber wrote about dogs (he had many, because it's apparent he really liked dogs), is that some of his other stuff suffers from cringe-worthy hints of casual racism. I guess it's just a mark of the culture and times he grew up in, but if you're deeply bothered by that, I'd stick to his animal stories. This book also has some entertaining cartoons, though, and strange modernized parables such as a version of red riding hood of which the moral is 'It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.' His tales of his teen years at home, with a senile but slightly aggressive grandfather, a mother who comes off as just slightly dotty and fond of throwing things, his brother and assorted cousins, are all told with a dry wit that turns weird situations even more entertaining. These are the stories that stuck in my mind and had me buying his book years after I'd read it last.
Nobody Knew Exactly What Was The Matter With Him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 33: Pens

Pens as inspiration got me back to thinking of drawing, and works I like that are done in pen. If you're not familiar with the works of Edward Gorey... well, you should be. His stuff is weird and twisted in such a quiet way. He writes and draws, sometimes stories that are unexpected or even unfathomable nonsense, other times delightfully dark poems and rhymes, and usually the illustrations and words rely on each other to the point where it's only half a step away from a graphic novel.
I have three Amphigorey books, which are big collections of his stuff. In their original form his little stories are sometimes hard to come by, so this is a good way to get your hands on as much of his work as possible.
Not actually the work of Edward Gorey...
The collection pictured here includes my girlfriend's favorite 'The Wugglyump', the very popular 'Gashlycrumb Tinies' (an alphabet of children deaths), the bizarrely kinky 'The Curious Sofa', and another popular tale, 'The Doubtful Guest'.
This last one is a rhyming story about a strange creature that shows up at a family home one day, wreaks minor destruction and confusion on a daily basis, and never leaves. It's a weirdly cute little beast, though, and the illustrations imply the family is resigned to living with it.
The couplet I've illustrated here is my own creation, but just the kind of thing it would do, and illustrated in the style of the original pictures. I used Prismacolor fine line markers, not a traditional dip pen, but in the vaguely Edwardian setting of the stories those seemed more appropriate.
My illustration beside Edward Gorey's original title page.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 32: Make something ephemeral

Maybe I'm being overly philosophical about this, but it seems to me that capturing and documenting something ephemeral does in essence negate it being ephemeral. If you can look at it any time you want for the foreseeable future, it's relatively permanent, at least as much as anything on the internet is. I apologize for the grainy photos and video, though, we were having severe thunderstorms while I did this project so the lighting wasn't good.
The story 'Brothers of the Wind' is by Jane Yolen, and it's a picture book, probably not one of her better known works. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, rich blue skies over golden deserts textured so you can practically feel the sand. It's a story about a boy, and a horse with wings, but there's nothing patronizing about his tale. There's a grimness underlying the story, despite the dreamlike imagery. I don't want to give away the ending, but mortality and the fleeting quality of life are a major part of the message.
This book is one of those much-loved volumes my parents brought home from the yearly book fair in Seattle, where they'd go for my dad's work and stay overnight. The torn dust jacket shows it's been around and read often, and it's one of those few treasured picture books I kept when I moved across the country. The image in the left background of this blog is actually the back cover of this book.

I struggled with what to actually make for this project, and what I really wanted was to do something with smoke, but I couldn't quite figure out how. Ultimately I just made a little winged horse for the purpose of burning it, which creates smoke, but not enough to set off our smoke alarm. The slow, ashy collapse was strangely interesting to watch, as was the remnant that refused to burn...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 31: Make a path

Computer, inspiration, map, & tea.
This was another prompt I had to think hard about, and then when the idea did come to me it was a more involved project. Making a path is pretty wide open, because there's big paths and little paths, literal paths and metaphorical ones. The additional challenge on the prompt was to have somebody else follow it, and that's interesting but only for the person or people you can get to actually do it.
A literal physical path would be limited to local people following it, although I considered that option.
Then I got into thinking of the kind of path anyone who can read can follow, and how they can decide where to go...

I'm just one of many people, I'm sure, who grew up reading the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' type books. The idea is fascinating, and if you haven't read one you should go to your nearest library and ask in the kid's section, because chances are they'll have a few. None of mine went with me when I moved across the country, but more recently my girlfriend's dad gave me one as a stocking-stuffer. Not only was I delighted to see one of these books, but it's also a more advanced kind that was co-written by Steve Jackson. Probably only geeks know who he is, but he has a game company that does a lot of little card games, the Illuminati card and Role-playing game, and G.U.R.P.S. which was the major occupation of my life from High School through college. That stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System and it's way more awesome than AD&D, because it's designed for RP in any setting from medieval to space opera to whatever else you come up with. It's simple, adaptable, and I still have my old game books.
Anyway! As somebody who's been a GM (That's Game Master for you non-geeks), I figured I was up for the challenge of writing my own 'Choose Your Own Adventure' style thing, and my basic web skills gave me a way to put it up online so anybody reading this can play it.
That said, this is pretty simply and quickly done, and it may be buggy still. If you run into any glitches, please comment here and let me know, and I'll tweak and fine-tune it ASAP. The photos are almost entirely mine, although why I even have some of them I'm not sure. The arrows are pretty wonky, and I apologize for that. I've spent all day on it, so I need a break before I try to mend the glitches...
Please come check it out, play to your heart's content, and comment! Click here or the arrow below to play...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 30: Play with toys

L-R: Angelica (holding Uni), Huckleberry, Blackjack, unnamed monkey with fez.
How did I get to thirty? It took me more than a month, anyway. Still, I'm reasonably impressed.
Today's prompt was to play with toys. I still have a box of the most important treasures of my childhood, although I don't look at it much anymore, and I still have a few of my most important stuffed animals. You know the kind, the ones that you took everywhere and cuddled with at night. The ones that could ward off nightmares or monsters in the closet. They've done a long hard duty keeping me comforted through my early years, and now enjoy retirement upstairs in our storage room, neglected and dusty.
My definition of toys has changed, although I've still got some neat action figures collected over the past ten years. The guitar shown here is my newest toy. I just got it a few days ago, from my girlfriend's father. It's been sitting in an attic for years, and I just tonight got it re-strung backwards (with only minor injury), because I'm left-handed. I don't know how to play, but I'm hoping to teach myself through Youtube videos.
Huck understands this book...
I'm really excited about the guitar, and about learning to play it, but it will never mean to me what the consoling symbols of my childhood did.
I don't remember when I first read 'The Velveteen Rabbit', but I do remember it was with these illustrations. This is another book I tracked down again in adulthood because of how it resonated with me. Certain toys do attain a realness, an intensity of presence that sticks. Somewhere in the more innocent parts of my being, I hope that they someday get their blessing to some happy forever fate, but in the meantime I'm so attached I still keep them.

The largest of these stuffed animals is the panda, Angelica. She was sitting on the piano bench one Christmas morning, and she was the biggest stuffed toy I had ever owned. She was the size of my own entire torso and head, limbs perfectly positioned for a hug. Her nose was plastic, but came out so many times my mother finally gave up on glue and sewed a black felt one over the hole. Initially her gender and name were undecided. She was Andy, except when wearing the apron stolen off my Raggedy Ann doll, and then she was Angelica. Eventually the latter stuck, aproned or not.
She's holding the uncreatively named Uni, a little unicorn the tip of whose horn shows evidence of having been chewed on. His eyes are plastic but almond-shaped with curving eyelids, sweet and realistic looking. I saw him in a store, but I have no idea where or when, and his eyes caught my heart. I begged my mother for him, because of his soulful eyes, and although I was almost never randomly indulged (spoiled) that way, she gave in that time.
Next to Angelica is Huckleberry, who I often just called Huck. He was also a Christmas gift, a year or two after Angelica. I had determined that on that Christmas morning I was going to get a best friend for Angelica. I think that's even how I wrote it on my wishlist. To this day I think of them as a pair. He's a fairly unremarkable jointed teddy bear in design, but has a distinct place in my childhood. If I had to give up all other remnants of my childhood but two, it would be Angelica and Huck.
The black horse is plastic but covered in flocking, and he has rabbit fur for mane and tail. He was a Christmas gift from the Schultzes, a family my family was friends with since before either had kids. I got the idea into my head immediately that he was very expensive, probably because of the rabbit fur, and I always took great care with him. His red bridle is permanently attached, but his saddle is long gone. The name that stuck on him ultimately was Blackjack, and one of my favorite games was to make a labyrinth on the floor with books (preferably Little Golden Books, spine-up so there was a gleaming gold edge to the maze), and pretend he was a pooka who lived at the center of it. He ventured forth by night to scare and attack people who abused horses.
Yeah, I was a strange child.
The monkey with the fez doesn't have a name, and is only a year or two old. My girlfriend made him, and when I fell in love with him she gave him to me for my birthday. To see more of her dolls, check out our Etsy shop or our shop FaceBook page. Blatant plug? Why yes, yes it is. But isn't he an awesome monkey?
Does this count as playing?
I'm not sure setting all these guys up for tea in the back garden (well, what passes for a garden at our apartment) counts as playing with them. I didn't even technically play for them, despite the picture here, because I hadn't got the guitar re-strung when the photo was taken. I felt strangely guilty putting them away again in the spare bedroom.
In 'The Velveteen Rabbit' the toy of the title is made into a real rabbit only after being cast away, fated to be destroyed. When I read this book as a child I really did have visions of Angelica someday becoming a real panda, munching away on bamboo somewhere in China (although a zoo is a lot more likely these days). Huckleberry as a brown bear would live across the globe, though, and I hate to think of them separated. I'm not sure the kind of real that comes at the end of this story is the ultimate destiny a toy would hope for. I'm in my thirties and I still have them. When I take them out, or even go into the room for something, I sometimes give them a passing greeting or a pat on the head.
Maybe that's not such a bad fate, after all?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 29: Disguise

Not The Shadow's nose.
This was actually one of the easier and faster projects I've done, but I'll warn you right now, you're pretty much missing out on the project if you don't watch the video below. These still pictures are included... well, just because.
I actually do a fair amount of talking about The Shadow pulps in the video, but not the specific issue I'm holding up. This reprint holds the stories 'The Chinese Disks' and 'Malmordo', and I picked this issue specifically because in both those stories The Shadow uses a whole lot of disguises. It's an important feature of a lot of Shadow stories, but disguise is pretty crucial in these two stories, especially 'Malmordo' where the climax kind of hinges on it.
Not a clever disguise.
 My brain jumped to The Shadow pulps pretty much as soon as I saw the prompt to create a disguise. I have a long-standing love of costumes and roleplay and everything that could conceivably go into a disguise. I like accents, and I was actually very big into acting when I was younger. Even when I do text-based roleplay (and I do, a lot), I'm very aware of not just what the character I'm playing looks like, but their physical mannerisms, tone of voice, and all the little details we subconsciously take in about people.
Valley girl, or trailer trash?
In the video I was trying to make the point that disguise is more than putting on a wig or make-up, it's about how you speak and move and carry yourself. I did dress up and even put on make-up here (yes, it does say in the video I'm allergic, but not severely. Still, my eyelids are all puffy now.), but I really did pretty much a minimum of costuming. Changing your appearance visually is only one small piece of disguise.

Anyway, please watch the video, and I'll try top preemptively answer a few questions here: Yes, my 'valley girl' looks more like trailer park trash. I was limited in what I had to work with, and pulled out some really old clothes I don't wear anymore. Also that lipstick is really hard to get off.
Sophisticated, or snobby?
I did film these out of sequence, because of the make-up involved, and I did read off a script I wrote and taped up close to the camera. I apologize for the subtle echo effect, but this was filmed in the bathroom. I put a piece of white fabric over the shower curtain rod, and propped the camera in an open jewelry box so I could see the viewscreen in the mirrored lid.
I was really big into acting from when I was very young, in community plays and in Drama Club through Middle School, but by the end of that I for the first time developed lasting stage fright. I was nervous just talking to the camera alone in the house, which is why I'm rocking a little in the normal segments. Whoops.
And lastly yes, my voice really is just that low naturally.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 28: School materials

I couldn't think of a better book to go with using school materials than 'Ghosts Who Went to School'. The copy I have now I think I got at a local used bookstore, but I bought it because I remembered reading it several times as a kid. The title is a pretty literal description of the main plot, but that doesn't cover how wonderfully weird a book this is. I've re-read it a number of times since I got it, and it's a really good book because although the language is simple, it's not patronizing or even overtly directed at children.
The story follows a family of ghosts, but most especially the younger of the two brothers. They and their parents all live in a house that's defaulted to the bank since the last of the family line living there died with no heirs and a mortgage. It's not your typical haunted house, because the ghosts are diligent about upkeep and even the lawn is mowed on a regular basis. Of course with yardwork being done regularly by ghosts, everyone in town has noticed the place is haunted and no one will buy it.
This makes for a pretty dull and lonely existence for the two children of the ghost family. At least they have each other, but there's no other children for them to play with. The older brother, Mortimer, is at least allowed to go out wandering town a little (with a curfew and his parent's foreknowledge), but the younger son Wilbur is considered too young to go out on his own and he gets bored when his brother goes off without him.
The story starts with Mortimer agreeing to take his little brother out to see Christmas decorations, and causing some trouble by sheer accident when they try to help decorate the town square's tree, and break up a fight between other kids.
After the Christmas holiday, the ghost boys convince their parents to let them go to school, partly for education and partly to give them something to do. Of course at first they go visit the local school invisibly, but they're starved for social interaction and can't quite keep from interfering and getting noticed. Because this is a kid's book, the main character Wilbur is ultimately accepted by classmates and teacher, and allowed to become a regular student. Almost regular. Wilbur's being a ghost makes for both trouble and advantages. When the class hamster escapes, he's able to go through the furniture to retrieve it, but when the class is visited by anyone else, like the principal or later a student teacher, it's a problem that Wilbur has trouble staying visible all the time. He tends to vanish when he's concentrating, which is exactly what he should be doing during lessons.
There's no question it's a kids story, because of the interactions and the kind of problems that come up, but it's got plenty of humor I can appreciate at any age. Towards the end of the book there's a school play on the history of the town, and Wilbur and Mortimer's parents become a reference for the script. When the accurate history brings to light some less flattering aspects of the great-grandfather of the town's historical busybody, she makes a fuss. After the play the ghosts appear to shut her up.
This might not be a great classic in the grand halls of literature, but I definitely recommend giving it a read.
Also, if these drawings look a little different than my usual, that's because I was copying the style of the illustrations to portray some moments in the book there were no illustrations for.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 27: Dreams

I guess I should have known that making something based on a dream would turn out to be a longer project. I keep a dream journal, and I tend to have long, semi-coherent story-like dreams full of strong symbolism and mythology. Needless to say, I had a lot of material to choose from, and I even had multiple dreams that connect to books. I narrowed it down to two choices and in the end I'm not sure either one could have been done in a day.
The book shown here isn't a work of fiction, it's more a study of certain mythological symbols and what they stand for psychologically. The story of the Fisher King goes way back, and has been adapted into Arthurian legend. The king, as a young man, suffers a serious injury. Some versions say in the thigh, while others versions don't mess around and say it's in the genitals, the point being it's in the 'generative' region. He lives, but the injury will not heal, and he's left forever cold, or unable to feel, no longer able to enjoy life. The author links this to the psychological impairment of being wounded in the ability to access the passionate, warm, creative and feeling side of one's self. It's not strictly a masculine problem, but in Western culture men are encouraged to focus on the logical, practical side of things, to live more by 'cold' reason.
Don't ask how he drinks his coffee...
There's a lot more to the myth, which you'll have to read the book for, but ultimately it takes someone else to go questing and bring some symbolic thing (such as the holy grail) to heal the fisher king. It's an interesting analogy, and an interesting book. For another interpretation of the Fisher King story, I highly recommend you look up 'The Lazarus Heart' by Sting, even if just for the lyrics. He's said the song was inspired by a dream he had, which he later learned from a friend was the typical dream of the Fisher King myth. Apparently it's not an uncommon symbolism in dreams, and that probably means something.
Here then, is my own dream journal entry, dated 12/21/08 6AM-ish:

The initial setup of the dream reminded me of the movie Matilda, with my viewpoint character a very young girl with two inadequate parents.
Intelligent beyond her years and very self sufficient, the girl noted the absence of parenting in her life and was constantly dismayed by it. She was always sweet-tempered towards her parents but spent much of her time being left to entertain and care for herself. Sometimes there was a vague suggestion of a disinterested brother, which I think was my brain leaning on the movie, but half the time I had the impression she was an only child.
The mother was a genuinely loving but vapid and useless figure. She seemed mostly distracted with her own interests but truly affectionate when she remembered to show it. Affection came in brief bouts, clumsy and ineffectual, then she’d grow distracted and distant again without meaning to, until she realized her own absence and overcompensated to try to make up for it. The cycle was repeated so many times the girl just accepted it and was grateful for the periods when her mother was overindulging her to try to make amends, even though she knew that was a passing thing. The mother was very pretty, and vain, mostly concerned with her appearance and clothes and make-up. I remember an impression of blonde curls and frilly clothing, a vague kind of Marilyn Monroe-esque appearance.
The father was distant, cold, sometimes caustic. He regarded wife and daughter both with a proprietary air, but didn’t really want any close contact with either. He thought mostly of his work, kept apart from his family, and spent most of his time out of the house in his business. The only time they really saw much of him was in the mornings at breakfast, and late in the evenings when he finally came home from work tired and uninterested in talking to anyone. The mother accepted his manners with a kind of mild and quiet wifely fretting, bringing him whatever he needed in the evenings unasked and unthanked.
That's a working hinge made of metal tape on his side.
The dad’s appearance is where things get surreal. One of the reasons his cold manner was so accepted by others was that he’d suffered some kind of serious wounding in the past. His heart was gone, as were his lungs, and I think the right side of his face was just dark and cratered. The front of his torso unhinged and swung open like a panel, and whatever prosthetics inside that kept him going needed daily maintenance that required it. The man looked like some kind of Dave McKean creation. Early in the mornings he’d get breakfast for himself, moving around the kitchen with the front of his torso hanging open and fiddling with the interior while he drank his coffee. He was red and lumpy inside, but fairly dry. The man was a Fisher King if ever I saw one.
I had the impression everyone in the family moved on their own schedule without much contact with anyone else’s, although the little girl fairly often ate breakfast while her father was still getting his, and she watched him quietly because he didn’t want to be bothered. One morning in a fit of mothering, maybe on a weekend, the mother decided to make pancakes. I don’t think she was much of a cook because the process left the kitchen a horrible mess, and there was supposed to be big dark pieces of something in it, some kind of fruit. The father came in halfway through this, getting his own breakfast and coffee. As some kind of practical joke, he put cockroaches in the pancake batter (Don’t ask me where he got them from). The mother didn’t notice, and cooked them and served them up. The little girl just sat there looking at her pancakes, some of the big dark pieces fruit and some cockroaches. The mother was glowing, pleased with herself, and chatting gaily, and sat down and ate some herself. The father, standing by the counter with his coffee and his interior maintenance, silently laughed at the scene. Some of the cockroaches in the pancakes were somehow still alive, and moved, trying to escape the cooked dough there were now baked into, and that’s the only reason the mother noticed at all. There was no big horror reaction, but she was very surprised and bewildered how they’d got in there.
The next scene I remember was the little girl gathering up some of her most important belongings in a nice sturdy ornate box, maybe a jewelry box, and running away. The setting was vaguely my parent’s house with her running towards the hillside and up into the more large-scale woodsy scene it sometimes became in childhood dreams. Then it was on to a more park-like setting, again familiar as a dream setting; light woods with trails leading off to meadows mostly on the left, deeper woods ahead. She was headed off on one of the trails toward a meadow when she ran into what seemed almost like some version of myself with my parents, or some prosaic version of us. The older girl was someone she knew, and she was privately a little jealous at her nice stable parents and the whole cohesive family they made. They invited her to join them for a picnic, and she was a little afraid of joining them because she was worried they’d realize what she was out there for was to run away. She was nervous they’d return her home. She accepted their invitation only because she was worried not to would look suspicious, and they were very nice and polite to her but it was pretty obvious she was upset about something. Trying to make excuses I think she opened up her box and was talking about the things in it, and I think that’s how she found the little wrinkled, dried-up lump slightly smaller than her fist, dark dusty red and looking for all the world like a big prune. As soon as she saw it she recognized it and so did my brain, even though I got the impression she’d never seen it before. How it got into her box I don’t know and neither did she, but this was her father’s heart.
This is a poor substitute for a heart.
She had the idea that if she could somehow mend this heart and put it back in him, he’d be a changed man and might feel some affection towards her, which she longed for. At this point the dream swept along in vague narrative impressions, whisking frustratingly along like my brain was bored with the story now that it had worked out the resolution. Somehow the heart got outfitted with some small mechanical workings to enable it to go again, and these were basically the way a winding pocket watch works. He’d still have to maintain it. They carefully wound it up with the top stopper pulled up, and when put into place in his chest that was going to depress the stopper and it would begin ticking away. But it wouldn’t work with this alone, it needed the organic component it was missing, that was essential to the magic of making it work properly. A heart needs blood. With the help of some expert (I think the me-girl was helping her get all this accomplished, taking her to the watch/heart experts and all), the girl was going to donate some of her own blood to put into her father’s heart to make it work. I remember it being magically drawn from her chest, leaving her dizzy and drained.
At that point my subconscious decided it knew how the story would end so it was time to wake up, even though it was ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. I’m annoyed that happened. It was such a wonderfully symbolic story and I guess I was waiting for some kind of fun and interesting twist or something, but mostly I just wanted to see the ending.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Doot doot

As it turns out, paper clay over fabric is an incredibly time-consuming and obnoxious process. I'm in love with the idea of air-drying clay, but I don't think I'll be buying any more of this stuff once I use it up.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Slow progress

Not a real blog post tonight, but I'm working on it! I'm torn between pushing myself to post every day, and pushing myself to make interesting stuff that I get to work on to a point where I'm satisfied it's finished.
Not sure why I'm so big on the 3D stuff lately, instead of just drawing or painting something... texture just seemed like an important part of this one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 26: Create something portable

The prompt for today was to make something portable that normally isn't, and that's a tricky idea that I struggled with up through this morning. I had an appointment today that got me up earlier than usual, and in my groggy pre-coffee state I had this weird idea of a forest in a cart. What this concept had to do with anything I wasn't really sure, but once the image was in my brain it wouldn't let go.
Later when I suggested the thought to my girlfriend, she pointed out that it's a very fairytale idea, which made everything slip into place. I've read at least half a dozen fairy tales where some heroine or hero is given an item that, when opened or thrown causes a forest to spring up and bar the way of whoever is chasing them. Sometimes it's a comb, or sometimes a nut or acorn, both of which make some kind of sense.
The book behind the forest here is a copy of Grimm's fairy tales from 1925, which I have no real idea how I came into possession of but which has some nice little odd stories or strange versions of stories that are a little more obscure. There's 'The Man Who Learned to Shiver' which was retold in the Jim Henson Storyteller series as 'Fearnot', some weird stuff such as one titled simply 'The Nose', along with more familiar stories like 'Snow White'. Even when I was younger I preferred the more obscure stories, and the idea of opening an acorn to produce an entire forest is just an enchanting idea.
It kind of reminds me of the puppet show I'm helping design shadow puppets for right now, which is a more realistic telling that includes the idea of planting an acorn to sow the future of a forest.
Peter Pan approves!
I guess my brain was still on materials from the back yard. The wagon is one of several kits my girlfriend bought to make up and put with dolls. It went together fast, but I was in a hurry to paint it with some very watered-down acrylics to get a kind of stained look, and the wood warped some because it was so saturated. I should have given the glue more time to set, at least, I think. It's not very sturdy.
There's real dirt packed in, and some moss from the back yard over that. The pond is a blue flat marble I found on my walk earlier today, and the horse (just pretend it's a deer?) is a little plastic thing I for some reason remembered I had in my old childhood jewelry box. The trees themselves are the very tips of branches, where the leaves come out in bunches. I cleared out our tiny garden in the process of looking for these. I still had more of the moss I used for Peter Pan yesterday, for the treetops. I noticed as I was taking photos that he's just the right height to stand next to the forest and be camouflaged, so I just had to include him in the photo session.
If anyone has a magic acorn that will instantly create a full-size forest, let me know, but in the meantime this one on wheels will do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 25: Work with Nature

I've been saving certain absolute favorite books for the really good projects, and I guess I've given in to the realization that some of what I come up with is just too big to create in one day. This only took two, at least, and part of that may have been the material itself.
This slightly ambitious creation is none other than Peter Pan.
He's made from sticks and leaves collected at the back of our apartment, and, I admit it, some old moss that was actually from our millipede cage. We no longer have millipedes, and it's pretty clean. The catch that made this so tricky was that the sticks were fallen branches from the wonderful tree that sits just outside our fence, which happens to be an oak.
I went through a few years were I did a lot of wood carving, and later moved on to soapstone (which I prefer, but is expensive), but I don't think I've ever carved oak before. My hands hurt. The smaller pieces, like his feet, were the worst. Each foot is about as long as the last segment of my pinky finger, and while I didn't snap a photo of the bottoms of them, they doe have the curved arch of the instep and a general toe shape. That may have been excessive of me.
The limbs are all separately carved of sticks, and obviously I had to choose some Y-shaped branches for the arms and trim away a lot. Arms and legs all fit into sockets carved into the body, and while I did glue them into place, the arms at least actually fitted in tight and stayed without it. The feet needed the glue, but the end result actually stands on its own and is very stable.
His face isn't quite what I'd like it to be, but the direction of the grain made it very fragile and difficult to carve, and his nose actually broke at one point, leaving it crooked. I would have liked to do more detail and get a better shape to the whole thing, but it was pretty clear it just wasn't going to work with this.
Peter Pan is a captivating story in its own right, but what really captured my imagination right from the start is the illustrations in the copy I grew up with. I still have the same copy, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, and you should go google her work.
There are who knows how many versions of Peter Pan out there on screen and stage and picture book, elfin and delightful. The way she draws him isn't delightful or cute. He's scrawny and all limbs, wild and rough and almost primal. He wears barely enough leaves to cover what needs covering, and she draws him with expressions that can be carelessly cruel as well as sweet. I don't think I've ever seen an illustration of him by anyone else that so perfectly captures him as the wild animal of a boy that's described in the story.
I don't think I've gotten close to the illustrations at all. The face isn't much like the pictures at all, and his pose isn't as fluid as I'd like. On the other hand he's a slightly awkward, long-limbed wild little thing, so maybe I did all right, after all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 24: Green

Going a little simpler today, the assignment was to work with green, on green, with... lots of green.
I guess I shouldn't be too surprised this is where my mind went.
This is a pretty simple flat color acrylic painting, on green construction paper. If the color is a little uneven that's because I had to mix up a color for Kermit's main body, and the outlining/dark stuff is actually a metallic dark green.Cheating even more, this is traced from a drawing I did for one of my younger cousins a few years back, although I wasn't happy with the head so I redrew that. I'm still not sure it's right, but if I'd drawn him with his mouth open I'd have had to put some red in...
I also don't know why he's got a top hat, cane and spats (yes, those are supposed to be flipper spats), it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
I actually have a little Hallmark book titled 'It's Not Easy Being Green', which is full of Jim Henson doodles and quotes from both him and various Muppets.
It's not a work of high literature, but it is sweet and smart and wonderful and everything else you'd expect from Jim Henson.
It's all posthumous, of course, but edited by his daughter, Cheryl.
I've been a Muppet/Jim Henson fan ever since I can remember, and I also have several books on the history of the Muppets and animatronics, which may show up on this blog later. Anyone visiting the house might catch on to this, although the Kermit 'drink milk' poster in the kitchen, my Kermit and Rizzo dolls (and smaller Electric Mayhem finger puppets), Boober doll, and Muppets calendar now used as a poster are just so much a part of the house I didn't think of them until writing this. Somehow, despite being jobless and pretty much broke, I own all the Muppet Show Season DVD's released so far and the entirety of Fraggle Rock. 'Labyrinth' and 'the Dark Crystal' were major influences on my imagination, growing up.
When my girlfriend heard today's assignment was green and I was doing a Kermit picture, she went to the kitchen and pulled out an Easter egg I made last year, which we're both astonished is still intact (yes, it's a blown-out empty shell). I guess Kermit has a significant presence in the house. I have two Kermit dolls for some reason, both about life size, so to speak. One of them talks and sings, although his batteries need replacing and he currently sounds a little funny.

What's funnier still? My favorite character isn't Kermit, it's Rowlf, he's just a lot harder to find merchandise of.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 23: Recycling bin materials

The project that ate 3 days.
What is this thing?

So this project shouldn't have taken me three days, by which I mean I should have simplified it. A lot, obviously. It was also complicated by the fact that we don't have a recycle bin. Our apartment complex actually won't allow the recycling trucks in, so we're on our own for recycling and I admit we're not as gung-ho about it as we could be. This sent me back to the paper bags we've collected, which are easier to find a place to recycle at than some other things.
Also distracting me from the project, my cat, who already has some kind of issue in one side of her muzzle, abruptly developed a serious limp.
Construction material, or cat toy?
My cat is about thirteen years old, so these weird and random health issues worry me a little. She'd already been to the vet about the first problem, was given an antibiotic shot and diagnosis of 'probably not an abscessed tooth but keep an eye on it'. I looked her over for injury, felt her from paw pads all the way up to her shoulders without even finding anything that made her flinch. She limped through the evening and into the next day. Apart from these symptoms she seemed just fine, and took a few trips through my 'construction materials', which I clearly had out for her to play in.
Another trip to the vet got her diagnosed as having some kind of allergy as the initial cause of the face issue, and arthritis exacerbated by a bad jump or something for the limp. A bunch of money, a couple shots, and a day later she's no longer limping and back to begging to go outside and kill small animals.
For the other Squeaks I used paper bags, some really crappy thread that's almost gone, and I tried tea-dye for the Siamese markings but that didn't show up well and curled up the paper so in the end I broke out some old acrylic paint. This probably destroyed the spirit of using recycled materials, but it's still all older stuff we had around, at least. The finished model is a little gimpy, but I guess that's appropriate.
Two out of two cats can't read.

The book I had in mind is called 'The Christmas Junk Box' and our copy is itself recycled. It's a library discard, and as you can see they stuck the barcode sticker over the cover so the title only reads 'The'. It's full of woodcut illustrations, and is a simple little story about a father giving his family a box of useful junk collected from around the house as a Christmas present. The idea is they're materials for making all kinds of toys and things, and everyone in the family builds stuff out of the contents.
Why are you wearing my collar?
Their projects sounded simple, but apparently sewing paper into a life-sized three-dimensional cat takes a long time. I'm not sure the end product is quite as long as she is, but I put it down for the cats to inspect and even tried her collar on it with no adjustment necessary.
For anyone concerned it might replace the real cat, the paper model is currently on the floor now, while the real thing is sitting in my lap purring like crazy. Possibly she knows I'm writing about her.
I'm also trying to make up for the delay here with lots of pictures. Both our cats seemed really interested in it, although that may have something to do with my putting it by the scratch pad.
Squeaks has won the 3-way standoff, and the scratchpad.
Since I just now realized most of these pictures only show the front end of my cat (I should've included the one with just her butt sticking out of the paper bag), she is a Siamese/Manx mix, with long rabbity back legs and about four inches of slightly kinked tail. She's got a short, square Manx build, but the Siamese markings and definitely a Siamese voice. Yes, her name is Squeakers. When I first got her I tried valiantly to name her something more elegant, but in the end she outvoted me. Vocally.
The other cat in these pictures is my girlfriend's 3(?) year old cat, Froggy.
You smell like paint.
 Froggy was possibly even more interested in the paper cat than Squeakers was. Of course, this means if I leave it on the floor, I can probably only expect it to last a few days before she chews it to pieces or something.
Realizing it might not last, I did attempt to take a nice picture of the whole thing against a blank background (the back of the desk chair), but it was not to be. I'm not really sure what to do with a paper cat anyway. The real ones are more fun.
Be careful when introducing a new cat into the home.